The Jewish community lost one of its most vocal and spirited advocates today with the passing of Dr. Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.
His work as a demographer often challenged conventional Jewish thinking, forcing the community to turn a critical eye towards itself when thinking about the Jewish future. Gary was a firm believer in reaching out to all those on the periphery and he often took unpopular or controversial positions, like promoting proactive conversion as a means to grow the Jewish community. Highly critical of the National Jewish Population Survey, he also believed the Jewish community was bigger than we thought, and he wanted to make sure all who aligned themselves with the Jewish people – particularly those with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds – were counted.
In partnership with Be’Chol Lashon (“In Every Tongue”), an advocacy organization directed by his wife Diane, and through books and opinion pieces, Gary advanced the work and ideas of all those who seek a truly welcoming Jewish community. He once wrote that “the Jewish community should promote the joys, meaning and benefits of Jewish life. We should overcome being afraid of who will be lost to Judaism and instead work on who will join us.”
In those two lines, he summarized beautifully what we – and all others who advocate for a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community – believe is the best way to secure a vibrant Jewish future. Gary was an optimist, and we are certain his work, words and legacy will be felt in the Jewish community for years to come.